In a unanimous decision delivered on 6 June 2016 by a panel appointed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the tennis player Maria Sharapova was found to have committed an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) and banned for 2 years.
Sharapova was subject to an in-competition test at the Australian Open in January this year and tested positive for Meldonium, a substance added to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited list on 1 January 2016. WADA added the drug to its banned list because of “evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance”.
The panel concluded at page 32 of its 33 page decision that:
“Contravention of the anti-doping rules was not intentional as Ms Sharapova did not appreciate that Mildronate contained a substance prohibited from 1 January 2016. However she does bear sole responsibility for the contravention, and very significant fault, in failing to take steps to check whether the continued use of this medicine was permissible”.
Due to her prompt admission, the sanction was backdated to 26 January 2016, the date of the ADRV. The ban will expire on 26 January 2018.
As a consequence of the ban, Sharapova is automatically disqualified in respect of her results in the 2016 Australian Open Competition; unable to attend the Wimbledon Championships starting on 27 June and excluded from taking part in the Olympics this Summer.
She has lodged an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which is expected to be heard in the next 5 weeks.
Among the issues the panel had to determine was:
(1) Whether Sharapova was able to establish that the ADRV was not intentional within the meaning of article 10.2.3 of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme (TADP). If so, the period of ineligibility would be 2 years; if not, the period of ineligibility would be 4 years.
(2) Whether under article 10.5.2 of the TADP she could establish that she had no significant fault or negligence, in which case the period of ineligibility could be reduced to a minimum of 1 year.
Under the WADA Code 2015, the burden of proof is on the athlete to establish a lack of intention to contravene the rules. “Intention” requires that the athlete knew her conduct constituted an ADRV or that she knew that there was a significant risk that her conduct might constitute or result in an ADRV and manifestly disregarded that risk. The ITF conceded that Sharapova did not know that she was taking a prohibited substance and accordingly the panel found that on neither basis was her conduct intentional. “If the player was genuinely mistaken as to the rules then she did not intend to cheat”. It was on this basis that the sanction was 2 and not 4 years.
That the sanction was not reduced to a minimum of one year was due to the panel’s finding that Sharapova “cannot prove that she exercised any degree of diligence, let alone utmost caution, to ensure that her ingestion of Mildronate did not constitute a contravention”. As such, she was unable to establish that she bore no significant fault or negligence in relation to the ADRV.
To access a copy of the panel’s full decision click here.
For more information on the anti-doping rules and World Anti-Doping Code 2015, contact Christine Bowyer-Jones on 020 7831 8888 or click here to email Christine.